You’ve been happily (or unhappily) married for a long time. You’ve got kids, a mortgage and couple of dogs.
Life is comfortable, you go about your daily business, you love each other and are happy. On the outside.
But what happens when one of you upsets this pretty little apple cart? What happens when one of you ‘strays’? Could you go back to the way things were? Could your relationship survive an affair?
The general opinion of most people is that if their partner cheated, they would walk.
The pain and heartbreak of infidelity is something most people cannot forgive and is almost impossible to forget. But saving a relationship after an affair is possible; however both parties need to recognise that it will never be the same again. After all, the circumstances and situation were a factor in leading the cheater to cheat in the first place.
There is a huge stigma surrounding infidelity, with only a small number of people identifying themselves as the cheater, but a large number of divorced people openly admitting that their partner had been unfaithful. Being the cheater is shameful because you are the one who crossed the ultimate line, but being cheated on is just as humiliating.
People are unfaithful for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes, drugs or alcohol are involved and their judgement is impaired and it’s a once off thing, and sometimes, there are real problems in a relationship that cause one person to go looking for something they are lacking elsewhere. The issue to be addressed if there is any hope of salvaging the relationship is always ‘why?’, which can open up huge cracks in an already shattered relationship.
So how on earth can a relationship come back from this major form of betrayal? Experts say it can be done, but not without a lot of dedication from both parties and a willingness to recognise why the affair occurred in the first place.
1. Stop The Affair
Okay, an obvious point but the most important. The affair needs to be finished and no contact being made between the cheater and the ‘other person’. This is really important for any trust to have a chance of being re-established and gives the betrayed person a sense of safety. If you work with the person you had an affair with, keep interactions strictly business and, if possible, see about getting a transfer from your department. It’s also important to tell your partner about any chance encounters you have, or any attempts they make at contact. Keeping this from them just creates more secrecy and suspicion.
2. Be Brutally Honest About What Happened
Secrets have played a massive part in this whole mess, so both parties need to lay everything on the table. All indiscretions need to be revealed and truthful answers need to be given to any questions asked. The person who has been cheated on may have a lot of questions that the cheater may not feel comfortable answering, but brutal honesty is the only way to make sure everything is disclosed.
Both parties also need to be honest with themselves when they question if they are willing to work through and move past this.
3. Have it Out, Respectfully
Organise a time when the house will be quiet and no children around. Sit down with your partner and ask them all the questions bothering you – get talking. Tell them how you feel, and how their actions hurt you. Knowing all the details of the affair will help the person cheated on to come to terms with it all. No yelling and screaming. You must keep your cool and talk it through.
4. Find Out When and Why
We aren’t talking about when the actual cheating happened, we’re talking about the moment when both people in the relationship felt happy and solid together, and when they both feel it began to fall apart. Often, the cheater will identify a time a lot earlier than the person that was cheated on. It’s really important to try and not play the blame-game (because we all know who was in the wrong) but to identify stressors and incidences that may have contributed to the relationship breakdown and, ultimately, the cheating.
5. Take Responsibility and Communicate
The cheater needs to admit they were wrong and apologise. They need to be accountable for their actions, even if they believe they were caused by something the other partner did (apart from revenge cheating – that’s a whole other mess in itself). Both parties need to be willing to talk and listen, and talk and listen some more, be open to criticism and hear some things they may not want to about themselves as a partner.
6. Don’t Expect An Easy, Quick Fix
Feelings of distrust and betrayal do not go away overnight. Cheating causes pain, anger and heartbreak and the cheater themselves may feel a sense of loss over the ending of their other ‘relationship’. The person being cheated on needs to find their self-confidence again as well as be able to forgive the cheater and move forward.
Most people believe having an affair is the ultimate clincher when it comes to the life of your relationship. Some believe their relationships are stronger after infidelity; however a majority of people (predominantly men) instigate a break-up immediately following an affair. Whether you choose to make the effort and work through the issues to fix your relationship or to simply walk away, it would appear that most relationships only really survive affairs if you want them to.